Harriet Quimby was always ready for a challenge. One of her biggest came on April 16, 1912, when she flew across the English Channel.
Born near Manistee, Michigan, on May 11, 1875, Harriet Quimby moved with her family to San Francisco, California, when she was a teenager. In 1903, she moved to New York City where she got a job writing for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Over the next nine years, Harriet wrote many stories, including an advice column for women.
In October 1910, Harriet met one of the nation’s leading aviators and convinced him to teach her how to fly. Ten months later, she became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license.
After getting her license, Harriet decided to become the first woman to fly over the English Channel. In March 1912, she sailed to England and borrowed a 50-horsepower single-seat, single-wing plane to make the flight.
Flying was both thrilling and dangerous. Planes were fragile and their engines undependable. Besides those problems, planes had open cockpits and no radar or radios. Recognizing the dangers, one male pilot offered to make the flight for her. He said he would wear Harriet’s purple flying suit, fly across the Channel and land in a remote spot. He would quickly trade places so she could receive credit for being the first woman to pilot a plane across the Channel. Harriet said no. As she recalled later, this â€œattitude of doubt . . . made me more determined than ever to succeed.â€ On April 16 she decided to go, even though weather was bad.
Harriet’s plane lifted off at 5:30 A.M. About an hour later, she descended from the clouds and landed near Hardelot-Plage, France. Although she was about 30 miles from her planned destination, she had made it.
Harriet continued flying and writing until a fateful day in July 1912 when she was killed in an airplane accident. According to one historian, Harriet Quimby “was a pioneer who helped overturn stereotypes about women’s roles in society, and who made it possible for them to achieve their dreams.”
About the Photo: This photo is from a set of cool photos from the MusÃ©e de l’Air et de l’Espace that feature banners for an exhibition they did on female aviation pioneers. For more about Harriet Quimby, check out harrietquimby.org and also Wikipedia’s Harriet Quimby entry.
For more stories from Michigan’s past, look for Michigan History and Michigan History for Kids magazines. For information call (800) 366-3703 or visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com.